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Anatomy of a stalking

A man accused of harassing his ex-wife and her lesbian lover gets 21 months in prison


By Celeste McGovern
Alberta Report, July 3, 1995, Page 24

The three-week Court of Queen's Bench trial of an Edmonton man accused of stalking his ex-wife and her mentally disturbed roommate was, if nothing else, a study of a marriage gone horribly awry.  But it was also a showcase for the controversial new Canadian law that is supposed to protect women from men in situations where harassment may lead to violence.  Subplots included an alleged lesbian affair between the ex-wife—a psychotherapist—and her patient—a masseuse, who was said to be suffering from a mental illness called multiple personality disorder.  In the end, Mr. Justice Alec Murray said he wanted to make an example of the defendant, to show the public what happens when the stalking law is violated, and last week he sentenced St. Albert jewellery manufacturer Erwin Franz Miller [not his real name] to 21 months in Provincial jail.
    Miller's life began to unravel during the spring of 1992.  Previously, the 48-year-old Austrian-born man had, by all appearances, enjoyed enviable material comfort and domestic tranquility.  He and his ex-wife Colleen Anne Miller [Miller is a pseudonym] (née Orr) had been married for 20 years and were raising two teenage boys, Richard and Paul.  They had lived in South Africa for most of their time together, but had travelled widely.  After their third trip to St. Albert, in 1988, they decided to move there.
    Miller established a brisk jewellery business while his wife, who had studied and practised psychology in South Africa since the early 1980s, hung out her therapy shingle across the street from her husband's shop.  One of her clients was Sherry Ferland, who was referred to Dr. Orr by the Worker's Compensation Board in late 1991 to deal with her "stress."  Ms. Ferland's condition apparently worsened under Dr. Orr's care. Their initial weekly sessions increased to three or more lengthy meetings a week and within a few months, according to Dr. Orr's later testimony, Ms. Ferland was diagnosed as suffering from multiple personality disorder (MPD).  The affliction is based on the hotly-debated theory that people who experience childhood trauma such as sexual abuse repress their disturbing memories  and develop alternate personalities or "alters" to "cope."
    Under Dr. Orr's care, which included hypnosis, Ms. Ferland developed more than 100 alters, including males, females, adults, children and two homosexuals.  About the same time she was developing her legions of inner selves, Ms. Ferland also became more intimate with her therapist's family.  Paul Miller, now 18, told court that his mother would talk about her MPD patient with her family and Ms. Ferland would call the house frequently, often identifying herself as one of her alters.  "My sons would tell me there is  a call from Johnny but it sounds like Sherry," Dr. Orr testified.
    Paul also testified that during the summer of  1992, while his family was vacationing in London, Ms. Ferland called from Canada several times to speak with his mother.  On the family's return, he added, Ms. Ferland was at the airport to greet her therapist and the couple drove home together, leaving Mr. Miller and his sons to travel in a separate vehicle.  Mr. Miller claimed that his wife and Ms. Ferland had embraced at the airport and Ms. Ferland was carrying flowers.
    Other bizarre particulars of the therapist-client relationship were raised in court.  By the fall of 1992, Paul testified, Ms. Ferland would drive him to his German and other lessons.  It was routine that she would pick up Dr. Orr, a registered member of the Psychologists Association of Alberta (PAA), on Saturday Mornings and the pair would go home for the day.  These outings, ostensibly part of  Ms. Ferland's therapy, included trips to West Edmonton Mall, playgrounds, and a showing of the Christmas ballet The Nutcracker.  Ms. Ferland testified that if "the children were out" (referring to her child alters), they sometimes brought Dr. Orr dandelions as an expression of gratitude.  Her female alters, on the other hand, "might have winked at her."
    Ms. Ferland also spent nights at the Miller residence, Paul testified.  She would usually sleep on a mattress next to his mother's bed.  On one occasion, Paul said, he saw Ms. Ferland, who now practises massage therapy in Dr. Orr's office building and lives with her, giving a massage to his mother on her bed.  Once, while they were on a ski trip together, Ms. Ferland massaged his leg too.
    Mr. Miller's lawyer Kirk MacDonald argued that Ms. Ferland had in fact become "the other woman in a triangle."  Mr. Miller claims that his deteriorating marriage went into a tailspin when Ms. Ferland entered the equation.  Just before Christmas, 1992, Dr. Orr announced that she wanted a divorce.
    Mr. Miller testified that he returned unexpectedly early from a  ski trip with his sons and found evidence that a cigarette smoker had slept in his bed and used his bathroom.  Later that day, he said, he saw his wife kissing Ms. Ferland, who was a smoker, in a car in her driveway and he became convinced that they were having a lesbian affair.  Within a few days his wife obtained an order evicting him from the matrimonial home.
    Miller reacted badly.  Police were called when his wife reported that her husband was lying on his bed holding a rifle to his head.  The weapon was found to be unloaded after a brief stand-off.  "I was cleaning my gun," he claimed in court.
    More trouble ensued when Dr. Orr obtained a restraining order prohibiting her husband to come within 100 yards from her office and their matrimonial home.  But his office was only 78 yards from hers, and he kept working there despite the court order.  Miller testified that he believed the edict would be overturned because it kept him from his legitimate workplace.
    Neither the police nor the courts agreed , however, and he was arrested repeatedly for breaching variations of the order.  "It got so that I was arrested in the middle of the night without ever knowing what for," he told the court.
    The warring parties, who were described as behaving like "two scorpions in a closed jar" by Miller's former lawyer David Schwartz, soon expanded their battleground beyond their offices and home.  Dr. Orr filed affidavits alleging that her husband shadowed her in his car, and trailed her to fast food restaurants.  She contacted police each time he dropped her sons off at her door (instead of down the street) and when he attended their basketball games and a piano recital.
    Both the Millers and Ms. Ferland began carrying cameras, on the advice of their lawyers, to secure evidence as to who was following whom.  And although all three parties swore they were trying to avoid each other, their encounters seemed to defy mathematical chance.  Miller, for instance, testified that he had a chance run-in with his ex-wife and Ms. Ferland at Edmonton International Airport where he said he stopped after working on and test-driving his car.
    Miller also testified that he deliberately defied the civil restraining orders and signed a lease for an office he knew breached them because, in his opinion, he was morally justified in doing so.  The orders, he said, "were placed against me by these individuals because they knew they were in an immoral, unethical relationship, and they knew that I knew, and that I would make a complaint to the PAA," he testified.
    Indeed, Dr. Miller (who continues to practice in St. Albert as Dr. Orr) was reviewed by the PAA last December when she admitted to breaching the group's ethical codes regarding doctor-client relationship.  The PAA quietly reprimanded her and required that she take a course.  It did not object to Ms. Ferland now living with her ex-therapist in the Miller's former home.
    The passage of the stalking law in August, 1993 gave Dr. Orr a powerful new weapon.  Though she conceded at his trial that he had never once acted violently towards her in 20 years of marriage, his numerous breaches of the civil injunctions provided compelling evidence in the criminal case that he was actually "stalking" her.  He was jailed for four-and-a-half  months before trial.
    Dr. Orr's testimony was tearful and fearful, despite her husband's apparently non-violent disposition.  "My life isn't a life," she sobbed.  "My life is hell.  There's no quality in my life any longer.  I don't know if  he's going to become violent, I don't know if he's going to hurt me, the kids, or even Sherry."
    Ms. Ferland seemed to remain one personality on the stand, but she alternately attacked the defence counsel or unravelled into a weeping shaking victim when pointed questions were asked of her.  Cross-examination was repeatedly interrupted by a solicitous Mr. Justice Murray so she could collect herself, and he once allowed her to answer a question with "no comment."
    Curiously, Miller's legal aid defence lawyer Mr. MacDonald did not attempt to challenge the credibility of Ms. Ferland's testimony by questioning the authenticity of her disorder.  Experts in the field are badly split on the issue, as psychologists Hollida Wakefield and Ralph Underwager note in their 1994 book, Return of the Furies: "Many psychologist doubt whether MPD exists at all except as a media or therapist-induced disorder."  Nonetheless, Mr. Justice Murray entertained Dr. Orr as the sole "expert witness" on MPD at the trial of her own ex-husband, against whom she herself had brought charges.
    The six-man, six-woman jury did not find Ms. Ferland credible anyway.  In a decision which the judge admitted he found surprising, they found Miller guilty of stalking his ex-wife but not guilty of  stalking Ms. Ferland, even though the pair's evidence was for the most part inextricably linked.
    Crown prosecutor Brian Peterson had suggested a six-month sentence for Miller, but Mr. Justice Murray sentenced the defendant to 21 moths in provincial jail.  Not only did he want to set an example for other potential stalkers, but he also observed that Miller had tarnished the reputation of the two women.  "Your behaviour is unacceptable and it has to be repudiated by the society we live in," the judge thundered.  "This type of behaviour has become all too prevalent."
    The judge also cited Miller's remorselessness as an aggravating factor.  Indeed, the tired-looking defendant with thinning hair told the court upon hearing his sentence, "I'm still innocent.  I believe I am a victim of a conspiracy."
    There was no evidence supporting Miller's alleged conspiracy, except in the broadest sense.  Some 2,600 Canadians, mostly men, were charged under the stalking law during the first year, and many of them argued that they were being victimized by vindictive women using a discriminatory blunderbuss designed by feminist ideologues.  That argument got little sympathy from a male security guard at the Miller trial, however.  "Even if he is innocent," the man shrugged outside the courtroom after the verdict, "we've had power over women for hundreds of years.  Now it's their turn."


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